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[News Focus] Moon, An at loggerheads over meaning of justice

Feb. 21, 2017 - 19:01 By Jo He-rim
Is fury over today’s injustice a requisite for a better tomorrow? Two front-runners vying for South Korea’s presidency are locking horns in a rare philosophical debate over the question.

The spat began with a controversial remark by South Chungcheong Gov. An Hee-jung from the liberal opposition Democratic Party of Korea about the failures of the two conservative presidents.

“I think they (Presidents Park Geun-hye and Lee Myung-bak) tried to govern well for the citizens and those from the lower part of the social ladder. But it just did not work out the way they desired,” An said Sunday, in a meeting with university students in the southern city of Busan. 

From left: An Hee-jung, Moon Jae-in

He went on to say that President Park, who was impeached by the parliament, may have had good intentions when she helped her friend Choi Soon-sil to raise donations for Choi’s two foundations.

“(Park’s support for the fundraising of) the K-Foundation and Mir Foundation may have started from good will to help prepare for the successful hosting of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics,” the liberal governor said. Both the nation’s prosecution and an independent counsel appointed to investigate the president’s scandal defined the act as an extortion of money.

Park was impeached by the National Assembly in December over the abovementioned accusations and others, including one that she allowed her friend Choi to meddle in state affairs.

As controversy arose over An’s remarks, the presidential hopeful sought to defend himself, saying, “My purpose was that, those with good intentions might also get into trouble if they do not follow the law and principles.”

In a rare criticism of his rival, Moon Jae-in, a former chief of the Democratic Party, took issue with An’s perception of justice, saying he missed an important element of justice -- anger.

“‘Rage’ is an initiating point for justice and the strong feeling against injustice is what leads to the will to uphold justice,” Moon said Monday.

An responded the next day that “rage” is a dangerous feeling for a leader to have. Even the phrase, “leader’s rage” may bring bloodshed, he warned.

Moon fought back Tuesday, saying the rage he meant is not directed at individuals.

“The rage we feel now is not about people, but about injustice. The great will for change and reform in South Korean society is only triggered from such heated minds,” he said.

An ultimately apologized and ended the debate.

“What I wanted to say was that, accepting the opponent’s opinion and good will is the way to lead a productive dialogue to solve problems. I admit I went too far by giving a wrong example of a corrupted president and apologize to citizens,” he told reporters.

Moon commented that An’s apology well reflects the public sentiment and that An’s remarks were misunderstood.

“Because he stressed the importance of unity and integration, he may have slipped in his explaination. But I think we agree that rage does not exist for its own sake nor should it be directed at another person. It should be a source of motivation to the development of South Korea,” Moon said.

The rare spat between the two liberal candidates, who have so far displayed fondness for each other even in the competition, captures where the two differ in their political philosophy and campaign strategy, observers say.

An, stressing the importance of unity and accepting the opposite, has been making moves to garner support from middle-ground voters.

Moon puts top priority on the reform of Korean society and a clear breakaway from the past 10 years of conservative administrations.

By Jo He-rim (